A Tale of Two Physicians
I stared wide-eyed at the girl who was probably in her early twenties. She sat on the hospital bed, trembling, eyes filled with fear, yet actively darting between the multiple staff members in the room. Her tears had dried on her face. As I approached her, I saw the laceration on the left side of her neck. The cut appeared to follow the origin and insertion of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. While her injury was not actively bleeding, it was significantly deep. The 4th year medical student whispered to me that the patient had be walking down the street and someone had slashed her neck with a knife. I was shocked at the circumstances. The patient was now subject to pain, treatment, medical bills, and recovery all which would require her to sacrifice her time, money, and sanity simply due to another’s animosity.
The attending physician began inquiring the patient about any pain in her neck and abdomen as well as any difficulties breathing or swallowing. Recalling that the laceration was positioned near the carotid sheath, which contains the vagus nerve, the common carotid artery and its two branches, and the internal jugular vein, I understood the physician’s intent to check that the patient’s vagus nerve was intact. I was thrilled by the basic science application to the clinical setting. However, as the physician asked these questions and the nurses examined the rest of her body, the patient increasingly voiced that her only injury was to her neck. While the frustration and fear rose in her voice, she remained unheard by the hospital staff. Finally, another physician approached her, placed his hand on her shoulder, squatted to remain below her eye level, and slowly explained that a major nerve was located near her injury and the physicians were asking her these questions to check the nerve’s functions and make sure that the nerve was not damaged. Immediately, the patient breathed a sigh of relief, nodded her head, appeared less tense, and seemed to now welcome the staff as they continued to examine her.
I was amazed at the contrasting attitudes of the physicians. The first physician demonstrated his intelligence, but blatantly ignored the patient. While he intended to help the patient with his questions, his sentiments were lost with his dismissive attitude. On the other hand, the second physician did not directly apply any basic science principles, but comforted the patient, which is essential for her treatment and recovery from such a traumatic event. Ideally, medicine is an approach that combines both the first and second physicians’ approaches.
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Authors Bio Below
“I’m a second year medical student. I enjoy reading, traveling, baking, and trying new things.”